Stelling van Willemstad
From defensive line to a challenging landscape
The Zuiderwaterlinie, which the Stelling van Willemstad is a part of, is the oldest and longest water defence line of the Netherlands. It is the cradle of inundation techniques which were later applied in other defensive lines across the country. In contrast to the (currently) more famous Hollandse Waterlinie, the Zuiderwaterlinie has repeatedly demonstrated its value during Spanish, French, Belgians and British invasions. The perfected ensemble of fortified towns, fortifications and inundation areas designed by Menno van Coehoorn made the Zuiderwaterlinie an impervious border that ran from Bergen op Zoom to Grave.
Based on spatial characteristics and the concentration of fortifications within the Zuiderwaterlinie, five distinctive areas can be identified, including the Stelling van Willemstad.
The purpose of this vision document is to gain insight into the way the military heritage of the Stelling van Willemstad can be developed from a touristic and recreational perspective. This insight can contribute to the spatial identity of the region. This can be partly done by the reconstruction of historic fortifications and structures, but also the visualization of the strategic and spatial relationship between these fortifications is important. By taking existing plans, other spatial tasks and initiatives in the area into account, this vision document can be linked with other needs in the area. The series of maps reveal the spatial potential of the area that will serve as inspiration for different governmental levels, fort managers and entrepreneurs in the area. The different fortifications of the Stelling van Willemstad worked as a defensive network. We want to emphasize their interrelationship and interdependence by looking at opportunities within the landscape, physical connections, visual connections and recreational perspective.
The needed improvements of the levees around the Dintel offers a perfect opportunity to reconstruct some fortifications with relatively limited additional effort. This needs to be investigated together with the Waterboard for the possibilities on the short-term. In addition, we propose to extend the planned creek restoration with a number of historic creeks that will connect Fort Sabina and Fort Hell with the surrounding landscape. This makes the historical development of the area more readable and will make it possible to experience the Stelling van Willemstad and the landscape by canoe or (whisper)boat. By reconstructing the old harbour Oude Heiningsche Haven, the relationship between Fort Sabina and Fort Hell will be restored. It also offers opportunities for the realization of a small recreational harbour or dock near Fort Sabina.
Restoring the visual relationship between the forts is essential to understand the defensive network that these fortifications formed. By cutting down trees and by placing signal posts it will be possible to understand the relationship between the fortifications again. Historically speaking, the Stelling van Willemstad was designed to prevent our southern neighbours from passing into Holland. On the highway A29 / A4, hundreds of thousands of tourists pass the Stelling van Willemstad each year. Once again, the fortifications can be "brought into position”, this time to persuade tourists from neighbouring countries to stay here and take exit 23 towards the Stelling van Willemstad. To connect the different fortifications with each other, an amphibious vehicle will commute between Fort Buitensluis and Fort Prins Frederik, along Willemstad, Fort Hell and Fort Sabina, connecting the most beautiful forts of the Stelling van Willemstad. Optionally, a complete round can be made along the junction Hellegats Platen. In addition, we propose to place a sculptural observation / climbing tower at the center of this junction. This tower will be clearly visible to passersby and because of its location in the centre of the Stelling van Willemstad, will offer a good view of the network of fortifications, the nature reserve Hellegatsplaten and the Volkeraksluizen.
The proposed cycling and hiking paths, the expansion of the water network and an amphibious shuttle will together form a complete recreational network in which the forts act as central nodes. At these fortresses, the car can be parked, bicycles, canoes and electric boats can be hired and the stop for the amphibious shuttle will be placed.
Furthermore, we propose to expand the supply of adventure related activities so that the Stelling van Willemstad could become THE adventure landscape of the Netherlands. These activities fit perfectly with the militaristic character of the Stelling van Willemstad. The forts, the open water and the rugged nature are perfect for those outdoor activities. Of course, the protected status of nature reserves around the area need to be taken into account. A remarkable location with a lot of potential is the island located between Fort Prins Frederik and Fort Sabina. This undeveloped island can be made suitable for nature camping or other outdoor activities and can be accessed with the proposed amphibious route. The recreational value of the forest around Willemstad is increased by a canopy walk high in the treetops. The more intense recreation such as concerts and large festivals will take place at the beach. The Mauritshuis in Willemstad can serve as a museum and visitor centre for the Stelling van Willemstad.
The proposed interventions, along with the plans that are already underway at the various forts, will make sure that the potential of the area is fully utilized. In this part of the Zuiderwaterlinie both historic and recreational values of the cultural heritage can improve and benefit from one another. Activating the landscape between the fortresses creates a grand destination, where individual forts are yet again part of a greater whole.